DSM: RE: frankly disappointed

From: Joe Jackson (shoeless@jazztbone.com)
Date: Wed Nov 07 2001 - 04:04:42 EST


Hi, Victoria! Joe, a parent from Fairhaven School in Maryland.

A couple of things:

- I think this is not the best group for your questions. The
participants on this group are mainly not representatives of Sudbury
schools, and those that are do not expect to receive requests for actual
operational and startup info on this list, because there is another list
that caters mostly to startups and staff. You could try emailing
Sudbury Valley for information about joining that list.

- You only posted a couple of days ago! :) I was honestly intending to
catch up on the prodigal amount of messages (including yours) over the
last couple of days, but I am basically living on a bus and it is very
difficult for me to find time during the workweek to respond to such a
detailed message with so _many_ big issues brought forth.

-Having said that, I apologize, and here goes:

> The interactions
> between the
> children and the JC, with such a small number, quickly became
> personal
> affronts and 'payback'.

We saw that early on. Assuming that JC is what your sm wants to stick
with, I would say that this is a stage that would be resonable to expect
to see. What we saw beyond the early tit for tat stuff is that we would
have groups of people who would stick together and refuse to charge
anyone in the group with anything.

That ended when a few in the group broke the code, and then it all flew
out the window. My impression of the current dynamic (4 years in) is
that the *vast* majority of the emotion has been drained from JC
proceedings and the stigma of sitting in or being brought up by JC is
pretty much gone, and with it the incentive for payback or alliegances
or whatever.

 Although we have had frequent
> discussions with the
> children suggesting other ways of dealing with problems, and
> trying to impart
> understanding of the model, we still have had some major
> blowups and threats
> of three children to leave the school. This wouldn't be such
> a problem if we
> had more students, but with five, when one is absent the
> running of the
> school is compromised.

I understand it is very difficult to operate a school with such a small
number of students. One of the problems is that the presence of each
student becomes an issue for the overall survival of the school in terms
of viability, and thatg pressure creates an unpleasant conflict with the
need of the school to have only students that really want to be there.
And the contradication there is that lots of kids who would go bananas
at the prospect of attending a Sudbury Model school with 50 kids would
be somewhat less enthusiastic to go to one with five.

The only solution is so obvious it's going to make you want to punch me
in the nose (get in line :^> ), but you need more students. So,
focusing on that, I think the key to a successful founders group is that
you have a cadre of folks who all a) share the same vision in terms of
what they want, and b) are all walking pr machines wherein everyone that
passes within a twenty-foot radius of them receives instant
enlightenment about your school.

What's the name of your school? I didn't pick that up from your post,
and I think you should be touting the name of your school like crazy.
Kinda of like subliminal man from Saturday Night Live, you know, "I
think [Fairhaven School] the principles of Sudbury schooling [Fairhaven
School] should be based on the fundamental [Fairhaven School] right of
all humans [Fairhaven School] to exist in a democratic society wherein
[Fairhaven School]" ... You get the idea.

Some ideas for marketing your school might include having informational
meetings at local bookstores or libraries, perhaps bringing in speakers,
holding PR events surrounding any event happening to the school (like
building a school or doing something with a charity), working on
individuals at local newspapers to do articles covering you, a talk show
at a NPR-type radio station.

I do lots of publicity and promotion in my "day" job, and I have found
that the types of publicity that are most effective in promoting a
Sudbury school is the kind that doesn't cost a lot of money, just people
power. So you're back to that cadre of founders who will tirelessly
work to promote the school.

> We have another situation that has been hard to deal with.
> Out of the five
> children at the school, one of the parents, me, has paid the
> yearly tuition;
> two of the children are from one family who pays monthly; the
> other two have
> not paid anything yet.

Stop there. You can't have that. Unless you are the kind of school
with the wherewithal to have some sort of assistance program, you can't
have people not paying and not getting kicked out. It's not a question
of sympathy, it's that eventually that condition will smash a school to
smithareens. That's just how it is.

> And somehow, the one family with two
> children is
> trying to use their financial power to do what they want with
> the running of
> the school. For instance, we, the staff, proposed having one
> hundred dollars
> per month stipend for gas to be paid to us, since we are
> volunteering this
> year since there are not enough students to pay staff. These
> parents balked
> at the idea, saying that their money is being paid to go toward their
> children's education, etc. and I should not be given any
> money for gas since
> my daughter is a student and I would have to drive her
> anyway, and I only
> have to drive there and back, and their family has to drive
> twice, etc.
> We felt that they were really unappreciative of our
> efforts,

Well, yeah!

But first of all, why do parents have any say in the way School Meeting
spends it's money. In my opinion the reason parents do not have a say
in the day to day operation of the school is because they are not
involved in the school and have no basis in the ins and outs of daily
operation. It's a real problem when parents are involved with every
little expenditure.

Second, it's my understanding that you are unpaid staff and cannot get
reimbursal for your expenses? Well, then you have to either tell them
you cannot work without the reimbursement and be prepared to quit if
they interfere further, or you have to put up with it.

 and think they
> are undermining many of the things we are trying to
> accomplish at the school.
> We have felt really disheartened by the way things are going,
> but are trying
> to keep on, since we both believe so fully in the ideal. It
> is hard to
> continue to defend our position against such strong opposition.
> Has anyone else had experience trying to start a small
> school like this?

Early I said I "understand" it is hard to make such a small school work,
because I have no first-hand experience with it. Fairhaven's startup
was a very lengthy process, and in that process gathered much momentum
in our modest $100k fundraising drive, home deconstruction projects, pr
events, purchase of our original lot, and our building, which was built
by the hands of founders using many salvaged building materials. It was
the length and level of activity which I believe allowed us to open
withj 32 students (over 50 today, with a new building scheduled to start
next spring).

(Although in the couple of years prior to Fairhaven's opening, the
founder's group occasionally dwindled and was at times somewhat lonely.)

There have been many schools which have survived and eventually thrived
with single-digits of students, however there have also been small
schools which failed. The best way to find out about them is to get
information about joining the startup newsgroup, and by reading the
information available through Sudbury Press.

 I
> am wondering if it is worth it to start a school without a permanent
> location

I am a person who considers having a permanent location to be an
extraordinarily significant factor in the survival of a school. In fact
if I had to turn around and start another one, I wouldn't even
*consider* opening until I have a *deeded* permanent location, not a
leased one. Not that this thing is easy, just that I know how much
harder it is to create a school out of a few semi-committed parents and
temporary location than it is to fundraise a hundred grand or so,
establish a relationship with a banker, and get in a facility which
sells the school for you.

>, or with such small numbers of students. Our
> advertising (newspaper
> ads, radio interview, postering) attempts have been largely
> unsuccessful, and
> we have only had one new family express interest in the school since
> September. Neither of the staff have the funds available to
> buy a property
> without enough tuition money to support the running of the
> school. It seems
> that no one is interested in sending their children to a
> school that is
> impermanent, since they are worried about them having a hard
> time going into
> another system after so much freedom, unless they do not have another
> acceptable option. People in this area also have not been
> exposed to many
> different kinds of schools, especially not democratic ones.
> The people here
> are not progressive, and authoritarian methods are not
> questioned usually.
> Thanks for any responses in advance.

It's a difficult situation, Victoria, because it's pretty plain that
your school opened without any sort of momentum, and you can't really go
back and fix the things that happened during startup that would have
gotten the ball rolling a little.

If the time comes that your school in it's current form has to close, I
could not advise you enough to avail yourself of the Sudbury startup kit
and the support and advise of folks who are involved with the founding
and ongoing operations of Sudbury schools in Canada and the US.

Otherwise, it's like a battle for you between continuing to be in a
founder role and trying to be in a normal staff mode. This happens all
the time in young schools, where staff are working for free or for very
cheap while the staff's spouse works (like Linda and I did). But it
sounds like some of your parents simply don't understand that while
sudbury schools are revolutionary in terms of putting the liberties and
freedoms of children on par with adults, they have not as of yet
successfully operated without staff who can see to the day to day
operation of the school.

And since they apparently do not have the same picture in their head as
you do in terms of what they want in a school, this would appear to be a
deep problem indeed that could possibly only have been addressed in
startup with a clear look towards some reference point (model?). We and
most of the Sudbury model schools I know of used Sudbury Valley School
as that model not simply for the bylaws and structures and whatnot, but
for the dynamic snapshot of what staff and students interacting together
in this model actually looks and tastes like.

To me, explicitly modeling a startup after an existing school is be far
the best way to avoid the lack of shared goals that inevitably creep up.
And that's not to say you have not done that, but you parents do sound
to me to be a little undereducated if you are indeed modeling your
school after Sudbury.

That's it for now, let me know if I can help anytime soon.

-Joe Jackson

> Victoria
>
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> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-discuss-sudbury-model@sudval.org
> [mailto:owner-discuss-sudbury-model@sudval.org] On Behalf Of
> Vserda@cs.com
> Sent: Tuesday, November 06, 2001 11:10 PM
> To: discuss-sudbury-model@sudval.org
> Subject: DSM: frankly disappointed
>
>
> I am frankly disappointed in the lack of response to my
> letter posted many
> days ago. I am honestly trying my best to run a school, and
> after trying to
> get some ideas or encouragement, have come up distrusting any
> of your real
> commitment to helping this model. I think you are all more
> into discussing
> philosophy, to the point of lacking a normal objective view
> of schooling. Why
> does it matter to what degree a school is democratic in one
> person's opinion?
> All I believe that matters is what you believe in yourself,
> and what is done
> for the children in your life (although I obviously believe
> in trying to free
> as many children as possible in my life). Aren't the people
> here interested
> in the SVS model and propagating it, or at least
> understanding it? Why argue
> semantics or categorize people's attempts to make life better
> for children?
> Isn't this the same as labelling, which is something that is
> inherently
> detrimental? Why pass over someone's plea for help and
> encouragement? I understand that most of you probably think
> we are ridiculous for trying to
> start a school in this area, but I think the effort was worth
> it even if we
> fail through a lack of support. It is hard to start a school in an
> unreceptive area, but we hoped that once the school was
> running, people would
> see it as it really is--a place for children to be
> themselves--and come to
> it. Perhaps you all disbelieve in this?
> Victoria
>
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